It’s just a rectangle

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My sister moved into a new house near us last spring, and her attention has been focused on fixing up the inside to make it not just a white box. But as summer arrived she started to take a look at the outside, specifically the little side yard that is her main outdoor space. When she bought the house, she paid for a fence to be put around the yard, and the builders spread bark there, but it was otherwise barren and ugly. And she complained of bark splinters in her bare feet.

She got some quotes on having a paving stone patio laid, but they were crazy expensive. And she started thinking about a deck, but she was a little intimidated about the building process. But it’s only a rectangle! How hard could that be?

So we made building her a deck a summer project.

She hired my boys one morning to scrape away most of the bark to use elsewhere, and then deck building commenced.

What we discovered early on is that apparently a lot of people in America right now have decided to do home building projects. And, with factories sometimes closed or shipments delayed due to Covid, the local stores were cleaned out of a lot of what we needed. It was a two state search to find 10 foot pressure treated joists. Luckily the 16 foot lengths for the beams on the long edges were easier to come by, and we needed fewer of those.  I have a battered but useful utility trailer that made it possible to haul in the 16 foot boards.  

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While the 10’ board search went on, we dug down and packed gravel for the cement blocks.  A friend helped her jackhammer away the cement steps in our way.

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(Let me tell you now that I don’t know most of the technical terms for any of the things we used. Pressure treated wood, joist, nail, that’s about the extent of my building vocabulary. The words “support thingy” were used a lot and about more than one part.)

My husband helped with delivery, and my sons helped with the hammering of two by eights together to make support beams for the long end. They also helped us get the first joists hung to create our rectangle.  We also made a lot of construction-question phone calls to my brother, who lives on the East Coast, and builds house additions in his spare time.

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At times my hammering skills were not up to par. But most of the nails went in all the way in and straight.  For a given definition of straight.

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We stretched it 16 feet along the side of her house, and then right up against the fence, just 10 feet out from the house. We made it a floating deck, using post blocks that could be leveled, because I was pretty sure the two of us wouldn’t be able to get posts in the ground and make them all the same height.  According to local codes, any deck less than 18 inches high doesn’t have to be permitted, and because it’s not attached to or touching the house, she didn’t have to go through the HOA approval process.

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Our proudest moment was when we successfully used my small and slightly wobbly portable table saw to rip a flexing, flopping 16 foot Trex board down to fit the final gap at the fence edge on our first try.

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Least proudest moment is the support brace between two joists that bent five nails and three screws before we gave up and figured there must be a hidden knot.  We were relieved when that one disappeared from sight as the top Trex boards went on.

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it isn’t perfect, but it’s level, sturdy, stable, and a great size. Now we’re starting to think about what kind of deck furniture we might build to add to it, and what the step up should be made of. It takes up about half the length of her side yard, so she also has another area that we can make into a patio at some future point.

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The happy new deck owner.

Power tools

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Lately my crafting has involved saws rather than sewing machines.

We’ve spent the last month having our yards, front and back, totally redone.  New patios and paths, and a multitude of new plantings.  It was all finished just in time for it to be too cold and wet to really be useable.

For most of it we threw money at people to do the work.  But I wanted to put some effort in, beyond the plant buying, so we are making the various privacy screens ourselves.  (Not the posts, though.  That was another task we farmed out to the people with muscles and stamina and post hole diggers.)

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The people at Lowe’s got us started with the cedar fence boards, cutting the 5 1/2” boards into 2” and 3 1/2” boards.

We then stained them what was supposed to be a neutral sort of pale brown but turned out to be very orange.  I also didn’t think there was enough difference in size between the two boards.  So, back to Lowe’s for more boards, colorless stain, and a second attempt.  This time I ripped the boards myself, using uncut 5 1/2” boards and making ~1 3/4” boards.

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This is the new privacy screen around our window in the back.  Too pale?  I didn’t find the right brown yet I guess, but at least it isn’t orange.   It still needs trim on the edges and the post tops cut off, but I’m happy with it.  There is a star jasmine and a climbing rose which will be trained up it on both sides to make it even more private.

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The second one we finished today, except again for the post cutting.  I figured the orange boards didn’t matter as much in the front where I won’t be sitting in a patio chair staring at them, so we used those we’d already stained for the screen around the garbage cans.

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My son “helping” during the photo shoot, in between holding boards for me to screw into the posts and sweeping up sawdust.

We have an 8’ wide screen to build on the property line so our neighbor won’t have to stare at our trailer, the screens where the hot tub will eventually go, and a small screen blocking the view of our air conditioner still to go, but we’ve worked out the kinks in the method, so they should go quickly if the weather holds out this week.